Internet Shakespeare Editions


Melancholy Malvolio

A Puritan (Malvolio before he dons his cross-garters, perhaps). From the Roxburghe Ballads, University of Victoria Library.

Malvolio, Countess Olivia's sour steward, is one of the most recognizable characters from Twelfth Night. He is the sullen, self-obsessed melancholic (like Hamlet and Richard II) who can't join in the fun and debauchery enjoyed by Feste (the clown), Sir Toby, and Sir Andrew.

But Malvolio -- whose name means "evil-wishing" in Latin -- is not just withdrawn from revelry, he is also its enemy. Shakespeare probably intended audiences to link Malvolio with the well-known enemies of the public theatre, the Puritans. Malvolio is abused and ridiculed by the end of the play, but he is also left out of the reconciliations that mark the last scene -- perhaps a comment on the irredemable melancholy of Puritan critics.